Which is More Real: Waking Life, Dreams, or Nothingness?

By Duff McDuffee on December 14th, 2009 1
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What is Reality, really? Does Reality primarily consist of physical objects, spirits, or emptiness dancing? Or perhaps all of the above, or none of the above, or whatever you choose? Our answer determines our approach to personal development, so let’s explore some possibilities….

1. The Case for Waking Life

Waking life is the most real of all human experiences. In fact, everything else is illusion. Dreams are just the brain defragging while the body is in “sleep mode.” What’s real is physical, observable, and measurable reality. The scientific method is the best way human beings have of understanding what is real. Happiness should be studied scientifically. Seeing entities or hearing voices is evidence for insanity requiring immediate psychiatric intervention and heavy medication. You are a physical body and after death, nothing whatsoever happens. Thinking occurs primarily in words. To live fully, be aware of your impending death and make the most of your life.

Reincarnation is utter nonsense, as are out-of-body experiences, which are easily explained by neurochemistry. Meditative experiences of oneness and peace are also just brain states, although meditation has been scientifically shown to reduce stress. Physics is the most real of the sciences. Human beings are products of evolutionary biology, and biology is just chemistry, and chemistry is just physics. All thoughts and emotions are just neurons firing. Neuroscience is really exciting because we are finally understanding something real about the brain, and getting rid of all the superstition that has plagued humanity’s past. God is a persistent delusion. Coincidence is random chance, and people are easily fooled if not trained in critical thinking. Human progress and personal development depend on sober rationality.

2. The Case for Dreams

The real world is hidden from sight, yet obvious to those who have eyes to see. Everything is energy. Spirits, gods, angels and demons are everywhere. Coincidences are meaningful synchronicities. You have a soul, and so does everything else. Thinking occurs primarily in images. Visions are really important, and dreams are the most important basis for big decisions in life. Psychedelic drugs and plant medicines open the portal to the Real. The rational mind is a filter that all-too-often keeps us from experiencing deeper realities. Science and technology are destroying our Mother Earth. Progress is a myth. Cultivate ecstatic states and your third eye will open, and you will experience Reality for yourself—which, by the way, is really freakin’ trippy.

We have fallen from the original state of paradise, where everything good was naturally in abundance. Language and rationality caused the fall from grace—we can get it back by expressing our deepest feelings, embodying feminine wisdom, and envisioning the better post-apocalyptic world our hearts reveal to us as possible (for apocalypse really means “revelation”). Don’t be surprised if the post-apocalyptic utopia looks a lot like Burning Man. What is created on the astral or visionary plane must come to pass on the material plane, therefore holding positive intentions is of the utmost importance. Dreams are expressions of the individual and collective unconscious. You are an immaterial soul that can travel in many strange realms, either with aid of plant medicines or rigorous spiritual practices.

Magick is real and everywhere, and prayer works if you work it. One of the first steps towards expanded personal development is keeping a dream journal. In the Dreamtime, we can all dance around the sacred fire together, as one tribe, with One Love.

3. The Case for Nothingness

All the world of the senses and the mind—including dreams—is illusion. Thinking that this stuff is real is the basis for suffering. Reconnect with the ground of all being (luminous emptiness, rigpa, prajnaparamita, dharmakaya, your True Nature/Buddha Nature, your Holy Guardian Angel, Cosmic Consciousness, etc.) in order to attain ultimate liberation and insight into the Truth. And the truth is that all of it is empty, devoid of permanence, satisfaction, and lacking in any “self.” Thinking is what keeps you from the truth. All your notions of self are impermanent and untrue. You are not your body. You are not your social roles. You are not your ideas of who you think you are, and new ideas don’t fit the bill either. But throughout all of it is something that it permanent, timeless, vast, spacious, etc. and that is who you really are.

Until we awaken, everything we do in life is to avoid the Void. Stop running, stop craving, stop resisting, and sink into the emptiness and you will die to what wasn’t really you anyway, and wake up into the Real of the profound Truth of life as-it-is. Science, while useful, studies illusion—only the science of the mind can discover Reality. Visions of gods and demons are ephemeral—look deeper to find what does not change and you will find liberation in the Truth. Abandon self-improvement, for there is no self to improve. Either meditate, or simply and directly give up seeking for anything to be different altogether. And if you don’t get it this round, aim to be reborn as a human so that you can try again.

4. It’s All Good

Yes, yes, and yes. All the above are real. This simple chart explains it all:


Impressive, isn’t it?

Don’t understand yet? Let me make this so simple a 2nd grader could get it: unmanifest Reality tetra-arises holonically via eight primordial perspectives or zones that develop through multiple lines and levels on a hierarchical spectrum or spiral from ultraviolet to clear light (or beige to coral, through two—or three—tiers), and through gross, subtle, causal, and nondual states which can—through meditative practice—solidify into state-stages (not to be confused with structure-stages), and appear in infinite masculine and feminine emanations, thus guiding the Kosmos (which is Consciousness) in an ever-unfolding evolutionary impulse towards greater integrated complexity.

If you understand the sentence above, you are part of the chosen few who will usher in the Integral Ageâ„¢, which means you are very cool. Or to put it even simpler, the states of waking, dreaming, and deep dreamless sleep are all included in the non-dual, which is consciousness, and consciousness develops in ever more complex ways. We know this because some very advanced meditators can experience being awake during all three states, and because various developmental models seem to line up pretty well, at least if you fudge the details a bit.

Postmodernism misses the point, and breeds extreme relativism (also known as the Mean Green Meme) with the performative contradiction “there is no absolute truth.” 2nd Tier consciousness solves this problem by making a place for all perspectives, yet allowing for natural hierarchies—which I just so happen to be at the top of, naturally. Develop yourself in all lines with a consciously designed Integral Life Practice. Nobody’s smart enough to be 100% wrong—well, except our critics.

5. Reality Construction is Violence

What is this “Real”? If you are wanting something “objective,” then there is no such thing. Stop lying to yourself and accept this—the sooner the better. We construct ideologies of The Real primarily to gain power over others. While it is horrifying to peer into the void, when you do so, it peers back into you—which is somehow liberating or something. All so-called “realities”–including meta-theories like Integral theory–are socially constructed, therefore subjective. In our postmodern condition, there is no hope for creating a unifying meta-theory anyway.

Reality depends on people to create it. The notion of “objectivity” simply deletes the observer, the one who does violence to the Real, thus entrenching us deeper in the lie. All elements of human society and culture are simulacrum–copies with no original. All communication is violence, distortion, bias—including spiritual and religious ideologies of “unconditional love” (which we all know is bullshit, given all the wars started in the name of God).

God is dead. Every notion of the Real is violent, and we create such notions to a-void facing self-annihilating meaninglessness. Values are relative, life is irrational and absurd, and there is no absolute ground to stand on. If you’re not feeling a kind of existential anxiety, you probably aren’t asking deep questions about life. Searching for the Real in a romanticized past will not give us any escape, nor will praying for a techno-optimistic singularity. In fact, we must give up all hope entirely and embrace the absurd. One of the most important questions an individual can ask is “Does the realization of the meaninglessness and absurdity of life necessarily require suicide?” Now excuse me while I get back to my cigarette and absinthe.

6. Reality Selection for the Metaprogrammer Within

Realities are like clothes. You have to wear one to function in the world, but once you realize you can take one off, you can try on some radically different realities—for fun and profit. What the thinker thinks, the prover proves. Nothing “is” real, but some realities feel more confining or freeing than others. LSD, psychotherapy, Neurolinguistic Programming, General Semantics, and various spiritual practices can help dismantle currently realities and engineer more a more interesting trip.

There’s no way to see the blind spots of your preferred reality tunnel without stepping outside of it and looking at it through a different reality tunnel. So if you want to have more freedom, break out of your habitual reality and try on some new ones. Have fun fellow traveler, and try not to fry your nervous system with too much experimenting.


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What is Real?

Feel free to either argue for how I’ve misrepresented your preferred reality and how it is in fact the most real reality, or experiment with arguing for all 6 (or others not mentioned here) in the comments below. Which reality do you live in primarily, and how does it affect your approach to personal development?



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75 responses to “Which is More Real: Waking Life, Dreams, or Nothingness?”

  1. You should be ashamed of yourself, Duff, for making me actually THINK, and on a rainy Monday morning, no less. But this is a good overview of some of the deeper issues I actually mull over at times, when I’m not off snarking in my own little corner. They’re the very questions that probably drive many people to the brink at one time or another, with or without LSD or NLP or their own individual quirks and baggage.

    As a profoundly shallow person (my own assessment, not that of my critics), and one who is quite at peace with this state of being, I found this post to be, above all, a terrific reminder of one point I’ve tried in my own rudimentary way to make numerous times. The point is that the endless pursuit of “enlightenment” or “total awakening” or what have you is at some level futile, and that those who claim they’ve achieved those states — especially when their claim is part of a marketing plan — should be viewed skeptically.

    I gotta tell you that I really loved this (from “Reality” No. 4, “It’s All Good”): “Nobody’s smart enough to be 100% wrong—well, except our critics.” I am having an odd feeling of déjà vu here.

    Which “reality” do I live in primarily, you ask? That’s hard to say. I try not to think about it too much (profoundly shallow, you know). But I do know that I could easily stare for hours at that animation with the endless doors, which just may be more proof — as if I or anyone else who knows me needed it — that I am far too easily entertained.

    Anyway, great work as usual, Duff.

    • Glad I inspired some thinking, which was my aim with this post.

      The quote you mentioned is a paraphrase (with my embellishing of course) from the bald one Mr. Ken Wilber, who largely inspired my spiritual cynicism through his personal example, helping me to drop any notions that enlightened people are somehow different or better than the rest of us.

    • Any by the way, this is an excellent point:

      The point is that the endless pursuit of "enlightenment" or "total awakening" or what have you is at some level futile, and that those who claim they've achieved those states — especially when their claim is part of a marketing plan — should be viewed skeptically.

      I wholeheartedly agree.

  2. Addendum to my previous comment: Some might think, by reading most of my stuff, that I primarily exist in Reality No. 1, “Waking Life.” But it’s really not all that cut and dried. At the very least I have had some interesting experiences with Reality No. 2 on occasion.

  3. @seanobrien says:

    Excellent post, Duff. I found it both entertaining and thought-provoking. Your description of Integral describes several of the reasons I lost interest in the theory, although the residue remains a strong influence.

    While 1 interests me still, 3 pretty much describes how I view reality, with aspects of 5, but I'm not interested in arguing for a particular point of view. What I want to point out is that if I (or anyone else) settle on a concept of reality and feel the need to defend it, it's likely that I'm stuck in that concept, which may limit my direct experience. This makes questioning whatever conclusion I arrive at more important to me than the conclusion itself.

    What's funny is that although my viewpoint contains no motivation for personal development, I still strive to eat healthy, meditate (recently), exercise regularly, etc… so the patterns that manifest have seemingly little connection with my intellectual description of reality.

  4. Dave Cook says:


    I am pretty sure I live in reality. I live and work in a country that is completely blinded by religious ridiculousness. Today, we found out one of our employees was murdered on his way back from holiday by a bunch of thugs who killed him because he has a job, and is trying to provide for his family. They cut his throat then decapitated him, in the name of their religion. How sick is that? How real is that?

    We Americans are among the luckiest folks on earth. We have the liberty to contemplate these types of things. In much of the world, they contemplate where their next meal is going to come from; they contemplate whether or not to take a job to provide food and housing for their family, and whether that decision may get them killed. That’s their reality.

    I work among these folks, I watch them do their prayers 5 times a day, and I just want to scream at them. Even the “educated” are ignorant and following the path of idiocy blindly. It’s frustrating. How do you fix people who don’t want to be fixed? How do you overcome centuries of mental programming that has ingrained an entire region with fanatical beliefs that demand conflict? That’s the reality I live in daily. Any helpful hints to surviving in it are appreciated.

    Meantime, I keep in touch with the other “real” world through reading blogs like yours and Connie’s. It keeps my mind active, it keeps me living with a sense of hope that these folks may one day reach a level beyond where they kill other people just because they don’t believe the same things. You guys do good work. You do important work. Please keep at it.

    As for personal development – well, one of my favorite sayings is that if you are not learning, you are dying. I hope to still be learning new things when I’m 90 or 100. My definition of personal development is continual learning. I don’t mean learning the vacuous, regurgitated crap of the “self help” industry either. I mean learning about people, learning how to approach and solve a difficult problem, learning a new way to look at a situation so you don’t fall back on your biases to find an answer, learning how to develop and improve your critical thinking skills so you don’t fall victim to a scammer. Finally, developing the skills to make a difference in the world – helping people by teaching them “real world skills” or improving their quality of life – that’s personal development. There are no dollar signs associated with it, so all these so-called gurus who spout off about helping people – for a fee – are not a part of what I’m talking about.

    • Haider says:


      I stopped going to the mosque over a year ago because I couldn't stand the cultish mentality of most Muslims and their sheepish attitude towards understanding their religion.

      I would say that it's close to impossible to "fix people who don't want to be fixed." But I would also say that you can go a long way by trying to understand how they think and use some of their own principles against them. For example, if Muslims won't accept the validity of the Holy Bible in an argument, they shouldn't be using the Holy Koran to argue against non-Muslims for the same reason.

      I find the issue of debating with Muslims (and people of faith, in general) extremely interesting. If you would like us to continue this discussion, and exchange thoughts on how we can make advances in this front, then let me know. 🙂

  5. ellen says:

    I like your graphic with the opening doors except that the journey is in far too much of a straight line. The detours and unexpected experiences are what make any journey significant and memorable. If there were doors opening to the side, above and beneath it would be more representative, for me at any rate.
    I'm not too much of a fan of the notion of self-development, it assumes an ability to direct and control events that, in my experience, just isn't there. Most claims of the well-thought out plan for development are applied after the fact and adjusted to fit the facts, IMO–neurological research has tended show the truth of this, our memories are deceptive and changeable rather than accurate records.

    Beliefs and conclusions can be provisionally held while working on a newer, more expanded vision of reality–its what we do naturally anyway if we are not fighting to preserve and protect our own self-serving model.

  6. ellen says:

    I like Dave Cook's last para, development is only useful when shared and used to counteract some of the practical problems of life, which brings it down from the lofty elitist self-development to a dedication to life-long learning.
    As to which reality is the realest, its whichever one you are espousing at the time. As quite an old lady, I'd recommend taking all and any of them with a pinch of salt and as we fry our neurons constantly why not try to experience as many realities as possible while becoming attached to none?

    Beliefs and conclusions can be provisionally held while working on a newer, more expanded vision of reality–its what we do naturally anyway if we are not fighting to preserve and protect our own self-serving model.

  7. Mark says:

    Hahaha…I have no attachments to real, so enjoyed this journey. I am perception, period. What ever I am perceiving, I need to choose about. Sometimes that starts with, "What meaning do I choose to give this perception?" Sometime that starts with, "Holy SHIT, I'd better ______!"

    Reality, for me, then, is perception. I am OK with that. What you and I can agree on as shared perception, a shared reality, is still only a moment of perception (Me: "You know something, I think I see a chair over there." You: "Yeah, me too.").

    What is in my dreams is my perception and is just a different channel of *my* reality, but is still a valid perception, and even if you are not participating, still *my* valid reality.

    As humans, sometimes I think we ask the funny questions. "What is reality?" OK, let me ask you: based on the answer you get, what is your next choice?

    Here's another question: "How do you feel about your perception?" Whoa…hmmm….does that matter? Hell, yeah, it matters! What is your next choice really more about…how you want to FEEL, or "what is reality?"

    Always enjoy our exchanges and your sharp thinking and writing, Duff.

    Warm regards,


  8. This is an excellent post! I can't make an argument for one reality over the other, because I really don't know more than anyone else does. For all I know we could all be living in The Matrix, really. What you've said here:

    "There’s no way to see the blind spots of your preferred reality tunnel without stepping outside of it and looking at it through a different reality tunnel. So if you want to have more freedom, break out of your habitual reality and try on some new ones. Have fun fellow traveler, and try not to fry your nervous system with too much experimenting."

    is spot on. Bravo!!!

    Miche 🙂

  9. Albert says:

    Hey Duff! I think I fluctuate between 1 and 3. And strangely in recent times, finding that there might not be a clash between them (does that make me a 4?). But the main purpose of my comment is to say that the 2nd grade description in number 4 made me giggle.

  10. Tom C says:

    Great overview of various maps of reality, and great site. I could argue a little with your descriptions of states 1, 2 and 3, but for now I just want to say a brief hello and congratulations on what you are doing here.

    I spend lots of my life with map #1. Less time with map #3. Even less with map #2. I guess my broad view is map #6, which includes them all, and map #4, if you hadn't tried to fit "It's all good" into Wilber's framework.

    But you know what Gautama Buddha would say about all this don't you? I think he would say, "This is interesting, but these are not questions that lead to the end of suffering. Observer your own experience, find the cause of suffering …." I could go on but I think you know where I am going.

    Thanks again. I'll read more and then comment.

    • Hi Tom, thanks for the comment.

      My descriptions were very broad generalizations with all sorts of problems, but I wanted to include all these perspectives in an entertaining and somewhat succinct way to get people thinking about Reality in the context of personal development. I hope no one will take any these descriptions too seriously!

      Gautama was interesting, because he himself was quite the philosopher and set down a number of complex arguments, but also was a pragmatist. Buddhism has both scholarly philosophy and rigorous meditative disciplines as part of its rich history, and I find that the two work together, rather than having to choose pragmatics over philosophical inquiry.

  11. Mark says:

    Hi again, Duff…

    Regarding "enlightenment," I have some personal thoughts inspired by your post and the discussion here.

    I am not sure I even believe in enlightenment. I am quite sure that I do not believe in the the mental model of enlightenment that would rank one kind of awareness above another in some kind of “better than” scenario, or enlist others as recruits to a “proven method.” I nevertheless appreciate that there are many paths, and the incremental step for another may be a step I don’t prefer or wouldn’t choose for myself.

    I find it interesting, that since all comparison for the sake of ranking are an affect of amusements of ego (at least IMHO), how can one who is thinking they are “better off” because of “enlightenment” be…well…enlightened?

    Personally, I don’t go for enlightenment. While at one point, I was searching…on a quest to “break through” to something; on some sort of romantic “journey of the soul,” more recently (actually for some years now), I am simply flowing with a joyful (and sometimes painful) ongoing spiritual experience – filled with a sense of possibility for *what* I experience as “expansion” will bring to me.

    I am not even so concerned about having specific “purpose” (the perceived need for which, IMHO, can prove as regressive and imprisoning as any addiction). Isn’t it enough to value *ourselves* enough to joyfully unfold?

    In this moment, I am tempted to ask who cares what reality is, when we have all this astonishing perception and experience to choose from? My own answer to that question is that, of course, I care, but only in the sense that it is fun to discuss with with others whom I value.

    Not sure this will make any sense at all to you or your readers, but thanks for reading along to now. 🙂

    Warm Regards,


    • Tom C says:

      Mark, you said "I am quite sure that I do not believe in the the mental model of enlightenment that would rank one kind of awareness above another"

      People use the word enlightenment to refer to so many different states that I won't comment on whether or not it does or doesn't exist unless we define more clearly what exactly the word refers to.

      However I definitely would ranks certain states of mind or awareness above others. I would rank happiness above suicidal depression, loving kindness about homicidal rage, peace about anxiety, and so on. Maybe that is not what you were talking about though.

      • Mark says:

        Hi Tom,

        Thank you for your reply. Yes, I think think we are talking about very different things here (sort of illustrating a belief that I have that agreeing on mental models are important to a discussion).

        You appear as though you are discussing what I would call moods and/or psychological emotional states. Further, you appear to be ranking these in terms of desirability of individual pleasure/pain. Do I have that right? If so, then I have to agree with you, that in terms of desirability, at the ego level, yes, happiness is more desirable than suicidal depression.

        I was talking about something different. I was considering a kind of intrinsic value, which we may not always perceive clearly in the moment. Not only that, I was, writing about “levels” of perceptive awareness, rather than mood/emotional states

        My perspective assumes that, taking your example of moods: apart from whether a particular emotion feels good or not, they are all of the same value when we consider that they are providing us with important information about us. I may like the way one feels more than another, and thus the “pleasure value” to me is greater for those that feel better. But the intrinsic value of all emotions and moods as signposts/feedback to us, remains equal across the board in my heart/mind.

        As far as levels of awareness are concerned, I was treating them as in: “How do I perceive my self?” In my response, I wasn’t writing as if you would ask the question just like that, but the question is a way of showing how I was qualifying my point.

        For example, I don’t perceive myself as what I do or own; who I know; or even what my present personality is. Does that make my state of mind more valuable than that of a person who hearing this, asks me, “What are you talking about? If you are not any of those things, then what are you?”

        I would submit that both states of mind are of equal intrinsic value, in that they are both part (perhaps a necessary part) of a person’s ongoing process of expansion, and though I prefer the hard-won depth of awareness that I currently enjoy, I am not prepared to call it superior to that of one who thinks they are only their ego-I (as I did 25 years ago before a transformational experience I had).

        To me, calling out one step in my overall expansion as inferior in value, is like saying one important step in early childhood development is of lesser value than any of the others.

        Since I believe that my expansion as a perceiver is a continuum, if I look at my current level of awareness as “superior” to the one I came from, not only do I make a judgment based on incomplete information, but I also diminish in value my own and others’ incremental steps to the kind of awareness I enjoy now.

        Once more, if I carry this logic further, then as much as I enjoy the present awareness that I have, I must nevertheless automatically consider it of lower value than where I am expanding *too* …a belief I am not willing to entertain.

        In the end, because *I* feel better where I am now than where I came from, comparatively speaking, if I am not willing to say it is “more valuable,” I *am* at least willing to say, “I feel better.” 🙂


  12. RevRon says:

    I think that the true fallacy of “enlightenment” (which has, at its core, a clear definition of reality) occurs when we think we’ve got the answers, but have yet to ask all the questions. And since we lack even the time within one lifespan to do so, we cling tenaciously to some point along our path and deem it “ultimate truth.”

    By doing this, we trap ourselves within the realm of a finite and myopic perspective, and deny ourselves the potential to move beyond that static point. Humanity has done this for as long as we have looked beyond our current confrontation with an enemy / predator, our next meal, our next night’s shelter, and our next opportunity to procreate.

    We have defined these waypoints in terms esoteric, spiritual, and scientific, yet each remains static, denying us progress. The priests of ancient times taught that anything outside of their dogma was “evil,” early travelers’ maps warned that beyond here, there be dragons, and the self-described skeptics of today proclaim that nothing immeasurable via the scientific method is real. Our search has led us beyond the fallacies of old, and in more recent times, the brilliant astronomer Carl Sagan warned us that our search for intelligent life was hampered, if not rendered futile, by our limited perspective of what constitutes life, which he described as carbon bias. We move beyond damnation, beyond dragons, and eventually, beyond prejudice borne of limited knowledge.

    “Enlightenment” is not some goal we achieve after singing the correct songs, performing the correct acts, or countering every thesis with a plausible antithesis. Rather, it is a beacon we may use to help illuminate our thoughts and guide our actions, helping us to savor the moments of our lives as those moments pass. We remain always mindful of the fact that any goal is, by its nature, finite, and a precursor to the next “goal.”

    Those who consider themselves to have reached some exalted spiritual or intellectual state are either dancing to the tune of their own illusion, or trying to sell an illusion to others. In either case, we would do well to study their conclusions, find amusement in their folly, then move along. If we perceive their actions to be destructive, we may reflect upon that perception and share it with those whom we suspect are likely to be distracted by the illusion. Yet all the while, we realize that we may be following our own illusion. The only thing that matters is that we find a path with heart and follow it as if it were our last dance on earth (as the increasingly absurd Carlos Castaneda used to state).

    I have come to the conclusion (again, a static point, but one that has lingered and strengthened for some time) that “you can’t get there from here, but that’s okay… you never really left.” I acknowledge the possibility (likelihood?!) that I might be on a fool’s journey, and that I might have a better handle on things tomorrow…

    See what too much coffee can do to a person? 🙂

  13. Haider says:

    Hi Duff,

    A very entertaining – and extremely important – post!

    I personally believe that forming an understanding of what reality is is an essential element for personal development. Most people struggle with personal development because they haven't figured out what reality is (or, in the least, acknowledged the fact that they need to form an understanding of what reality might be).

    I believe in an objective reality governed by natural laws that human beings can come to understand through reason and observation. We are responsible for the things we can control in our lives, and have no power (and, therefore, no responsibility) over the things we can't control (e.g. natural laws).

    Therefore, when I experience a car accident, I look at the circumstances and judge what caused the accident. I don't believe that I attract all incidents into my life (as some "gurus" would have us believe) and, therefore, don't experience any guilt for things beyond my control.

    My experience of reality (and the way I respond to it) is very different from one who shoulders the blame for everything that happens in his life, including his abusive mother or the drunk driver that crashed his car. I seek knowledge and understanding of worldly phenomena, and base my actions on that understanding. I don't simply sit at home trying to adjust my intentions and expecting direct results from that. While intentions play an important role in human life, their role is to guide actions rather than determine outcomes.

    Having said all that, there are many factors that tie into our understanding of reality, and we shouldn't lump them all together without trying to understand them properly. For example, while I believe in an objective reality, this doesn't mean I must enforce this belief on others. I believe that people are entitled to their own beliefs and convictions, no matter how much I disagree with their beliefs or reasoning. Some people believe in subjective reality because they believe that objectivity necessitates intolerance towards other beliefs, which I don't believe is true.


  14. Evan says:

    Part of my reality that I think needs to be accommodated is intimacy – by exploring how I am different to you we can get closer. This is usually not anticipated by these views of reality. My (rather ham-fisted) way of saying this is, "we are not individual individuals; we are social individuals".

    I don't think waking awareness need lead to materialism – many a Buddhist claims the insight into no-thingness comes while waking.

    One big criterion I have is falsifiability. My ideas are not reality – otherwise how would our ideas ever change? Which I think means that 4-6 are not for me.

  15. Keith says:

    In relation to points #5-6, Huston Smith: "Relativism holds that one can never escape human subjectivity. It that were true, the statement itself would have no object value; it would fail by its own verdict. It happens, however, that human beings are quite capable of breaking out of subjectivity; were we unable to do so we would not know what subjectivity is…a dog is enclosed in its subjectivity, the proof being that it is unaware of its condition. If Freudian psychology declares that rationality is but a hypocritical cloak for repressed, unconscious drives, this statement falls under the same reproach; were Freudianism right on this point it would itself be no more than a front for id-inspired impulses. There is no need to run through the variations of relativism that arise from other versions of psychologizing, historicizing, sociologizing, or evolutionizing. Suffice it to say that few things are more absurd than to use the mind to accuse the mind, not just of some specific mistake, but in its entirety. If we are able to doubt, this is because we know its opposite; the very notion of illusion proves our access to reality in some degree."

    Beyond the Post-Modern Mind, 2nd Edition (London, Quest Books, 1989), pgs. 217-218

    • Smith misunderstands the notion of subjectivity, positing a straw man argument. Here's a counter-quote:

      "What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning."
      ~Werner Heisenberg

      And another:

      "Not truth, nor certainty. These I foreswore
      In my novitiate, as young men called
      To hold orders must abjure the world.
      'If…, then…,' this only I assert;
      And my successes are but pretty chains
      Linking twin doubts, for it is vain to ask
      If what I postulate be justified,
      Or what I prove possess the stamp of fact.

      Yet bridges stand, and men no longer crawl
      In two dimensions. And such triumphs stem
      In no small measure from the power this game,
      Played with the thrice-attenuated shades
      Of things, has over their originals.
      How frail the want, but how profound the spell!"
      ~Clarence R. Wylie Jr., mathematician

      The argument back and forth between these two perspectives itself seems to justify reality #6 in Robert Anton Wilson's phrase "what the thinker thinks, the prover proves."

  16. Chris Edgar says:

    Thanks for this Duff — I particularly liked how you unpack the assumptions behind #1, which I think most people would consider to be their version of reality. I think that when we start seriously looking at those assumptions, version #1 doesn't seem as sober and realistic as it looks on the surface. If I am nothing more than the body, why do I say and think things like "I moved my arm" or "my body feels cold"? What is the "I" that moved "my arm"? Or if you say "I had a thought," what is the "I" that experienced the thought? Are you really saying "the body had a thought?" Version #1, I think, could use some exposure to critical thinking as well — some "going back the way we came" as Ramana Maharshi put it.

  17. Evan says:

    Mr Wylie sounds quite sure of the utility of pragmatism (#1?)

  18. Greetings!

    After reading this post, I felt I had to add my own two cents to this discussion. In my own life, I have gone through several changes as to my outlook on Life and the World around me, both visible and invisible. My answer to date is: I DON’T KNOW…..and that is fine with me. I make no claim to be this all powerful, all knowing individual who has been to the mountaintop and all answers were explained. Nor do I brush off situations that cannot be explained or have simplistic explanations lain at my feet. All I can do is walk the path laid out before me and enjoy what comes over the next hill, whether it is good or bad. There are some who place blinders on their heads and walk about in a daze, either not knowing or not caring about what is going on around them, and yet sometimes I think that perhaps they are the luckier ones. Is ignorance truly bliss?

    With regards to the five theories listed above: although I think they have their own merit in their own way, my life (so far) leans towards No. 2. For me, it was like standing on a cliff that looked out to an unknown area, knowing that I had to jump to find out. The choice I made has been a good one and my life thus far is a fine example of said choice.

    Anyway, great post and thanks for the early Friday morning brain tingle!


  19. Everything is energy. Einstein demonstrated that at the light speed, the mass changes into energy. The Russian writer Outspensky believes that even the inorganic matter has psychical processes. We move in a space- temporal dimension and we cannot see the metaphisical world but using the material eyes of which we are endowed. For instance a worm can know only the dimension of the lenght; never and never it will be able to know the dimension of the height. So we are, unable to undertand dimensions different from ours.
    The book I have recently written may help in this direction and I want to draw it to your attention. The title is "Travels of the mind" and it is available at
    If you heve any question I am most willing to discuss about this topic.
    Ettore Grillo

  20. @Lovitch says:

    I'll take #1 and #6 for $100 Alex.

    Great post Duff! I especially like your breakdown of #4 (Integral) – it is the most pretentious of the bunch.

    Personally, I think #6 can fit into #1 if one is playful about it in a Robert Anton Wison sort of way…

  21. Dark Night Yogi says:

    started #1, then #3 and #5. then sometimes wonder about #6 leading me to try #2. I usually think more about 'whats going to happen when i die' and actually think i got a pretty decent answer from myself on that one. so that's keeping me satisfied for the time being. i think that fear or the thought of death is also what influences which one we choose 1-6.

    thanks so much!

  22. emdsey says:

    i live mostly in reality 1 while keeping an open mind about other realities. duff, remember what wilber says about wholons (is that spelling right?). here’s a good analogy:
    imagine that the cells in our body were concious of their existence. they would be aware that they existed along with other cells. some cells are “good” because the play their roles and do their jobs. (such as digesting) some cells are “bad” because they destroy other cells (like germs). but how can a cell EVER perceive that he is part of a human body? a cell, given its limited faculties would never be able to observe that. he could theorize or philosophize that he is part of something greater. something that is god-like. or he could assume that once he dies he is forever gone. as a cell, you are completely incapable of seeing the big picture right? same as us people. if most of us live in reality #1, that is perfectly fine. lets just live in this world and do our jobs! if there is a higher purpose, supreme being or whatever, wouldnt it be completely irrelevant? but based on what wilber says it is more probable that we ARE part of something bigger.

  23. rox says:

    Oy vey, I had to not read that. I HATED that movie Waking Life, and you know I watched it while experiencing my Naropa induced existential crises. That movie was awful! I had dreams that I was walking up over and over again for months! After spending way too much time in Boulder thinking way too much about such concepts, I realized that what matters the most to me is the love and connection I have with other human beings. In as much as dwelling on concepts that you will never generate real answers to may help one become deeper in touch with love and compassion it can be good, but I realized it was taking me only further into my head. And it was not leading up to some "pinnacle of understanding" or enlightenment, but further into linguistic puzzles, conceptual and philosophical masturbation, and utter wasting of life spent having fun with people I love.

    Now don't get me wrong, masturbation is fun, so I'm not against philosophy for the fun of it, but when it comes down to it, I have to just say no, to the convoluted random musings on the universe and reality as they take me toward existential crisis and escapism, and away from the reality of my life, which is where I want to be.

    I really like people that get lost in such thoughts though as they are very often some very beautiful thoughtful people. (And it could be for you that these thoughts bring you closer to the heart of compassion and that awesome!)

    Enjoy your writing Duff.

  24. LOL, thanks for the comment, Rox. There is a time for philosophy and a time for connection with other human beings, and a time when both can be in harmony.

    With this particular post, one thing I was interested in is exploring how we get stuck in a particular view and think it is Reality, that other views are crazy-talk. Getting stuck in our preferred Reality is a cause of much dogmatism, i.e. lack of compassion. In this way, I think philosophy is very practical and affects our human connections.

  25. […] butterfly or a Butterfly dreaming of being a Human? This brings to my mind the age old conflict of Dream Reality versus Waking Life . The battle of real versus fake.  A friend of mine compared this dilemma to a online video game […]

  26. […] as if he feels the dream world is the most real reality (instead of waking life or emptiness, as I blogged about here) and has confused waking reality for dreaming reality. While many spiritual teachers from various […]

  27. Anyone going to a cinema for Easter ? I am hoping to be watching Tyler Perrys Madeas Big Happy Family, how about everyone here?

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